The slogan T-shirt is as ubiquitous as ever, and as I was researching its origins I realized that I’d never get to the source of its birth.
However, I did find this delicious trivia nugget: “One of the earliest examples of T-shirts with a logo or decoration can be found in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Three men attending to the Scarecrow at the Wash & Brushup Company in Emerald City are seen wearing green T-shirts with the word “Oz” printed on the fronts.”
No source better than Oz I say (well, Wikipedia to be precise).
The Slogan T-Shirt as a Powerful Cultural Signpost
We’ve all worn them at some point. As children, it was the proof of a holiday destination (or a family member’s) in the form of a souvenir T-shirt. Later on, perhaps a teenage rebellion T-shirt like the iconic God save The Queen T-shirts created by graphic artist Jamie Reid.
His doctored portrait of the Queen with a safety pin through her mouth for The Sex Pistols in the height of mid-late 70’s Punk London. Vivienne Westwood and her partner Malcolm McLaren had police raids in their boutique, Sex, in King’s Road, Chelsea due to their “pornographic’ T-shirts. The US equivalent of social rebellion around the ’60s and ’70s: Black is Beautiful and the latter part of the Civil Rights movement.
Perhaps we don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves, but rather display our heart’s desires proudly via the T-shirt.
The -shirt as Trojan Horse
In the case of anyone growing up in 80’s London (me), it was all about the Katharine Hamnett slogan T-shirt. She was famously photographed in a “58% Don’t Want Pershing” T-shirt when she went to meet the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a Downing Street reception for London fashion week designers in 1984.
The slogan referred to public opposition to the basing of US Pershing missiles in the UK at the tail end of the cold war.
An embarrassing moment for Mrs. Thatcher, a PR triumph of both political and retail for Ms. Hamnett.
The Pershing T-shirt was “a bit of a practical joke, really. I’d been invited toand didn’t want to go, but I realized it was a photo opportunity and I should grab it. That T-shirt gave me a voice. I wanted to put a message on T-shirts that could be read from 20 or 30ft away,” she told The Guardian newspaper.
“Slogans work on so many different levels; they’re almost subliminal. They’re also a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They’re tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself.“
Slogan saturation continued when Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s spent 12 weeks at number one, ensuring that their ‘Frankie Says Relax’ T-shirts were as everywhere in the worldwide web-less mid-’80s as Kardashian selfies are on Instagram today.
The final death knell that resounded ‘cool gone cringe’ was when pop band Wham jitterbugged all over MTV wearing the iconic Katharine Hamnett ‘Choose Life‘ T-shirts. The Tipping Point tipped and slogan Ts were cast into the ‘style graveyard’ at Oxfam for the next couple of decades.
Along came Irony
Thandie and I find that one of the best ways of bigging up upcoming entrepreneurs is by wearing their T-shirts. From Philaprint to Deerdana, to Tease and Totes and more, we will wear and continue to support who we believe in.
Aida from Mother N Diaspora, whose Queen T-shirt I’m wearing on the left has a goal to open a shop that merges traditional African art with contemporary art. She told me “it will also have a small library near the back for people to fall in love with the same books that I did.
I would also like to paint designs onto backpacks and clothing, create my own children’s books, and inspire people.” A great reason to wear her T-shirt, as well as a good one to wear when you’re having (as Thandie put it the other day) ‘a zilch human’ day!!
T-shirts as Wake-Up Calls
There’s nothing like a strong sense of injustice to emblazon a T-shirt. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was a call to arms, nudging much of the U.S. from its Kardashian slumber. These two T-shirts that Thandie wore (we posted on #SayHerName here) were our most popular posts ever on Instagram.
The Syrian Civil War is a humanitarian crisis of global proportions and has created over 4 million refugees alone, and with millions more fleeing brutal civil wars and violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Sudan (to name a few) there are close to 60 million displaced people in the world, more than any time since the Second World War.
Help Refugees was initially set up by Lliana Bird (Radio X DJ), Dawn O’Porter (Writer and Presenter), Josie Naughton and Heydon Prowse (The Revolution will be Televised) as a social media campaign (#HelpCalais) to raise a few funds and collect goods to take to Calais.
The public response to the campaign was huge and went far beyond Calais. The chairt is committed to providing further aid to meet the basic human needs of refugees, and to do so in a manner which maintains their dignity.
Money raised from the sale of these T-shirts will go towards our continued commitment to Help refugees. The aim is
- Continue to respond rapidly and flexibly to the refugee crisis, and send aid and other assistance to those in need across Europe
- Continue to support other small charities, grassroots groups, and individual volunteers on the ground in places such as Idomeni, Kos, Lesvos, and Presevo.
- Build shelters for 3000 men, women, and children in the Calais refugee camps facing a cold winter ahead.
- Continue to send aid to the Calais refugee camp, prioritizing food, warm clothes, and firewood.
- Contribute to support French charity L’Auberge des Migrants in Calais, and help with the day to day running of operations including aid giving, health, and sanitation, support for the long term volunteers, running the warehouse, hiring vans for distribution of aid.
- Continue to support smaller initiatives and outreach programs in Calais and beyond.